If you're going to address a dojo of teenage martial artists with an anti-bullying message, who could be a better speaker than Billy Zabka? He portrayed Johnny Lawrence, the blond-haired antagonist who kicks Daniel-san's ass throughout 1984's iconic The Karate Kid.
Better yet, Zabka brought Rob Garrison, who played Cobra Kai stooge Tommy. Who's that? He's Mr. Get-Him-A-Body-Bag! Seriously though, Zabka went to a dojo in the middle of nowhere — rural, western Maryland — to speak at its second annual Anti-Bullying Day, and to offer more than platitudes about bullying and a rough time of life for everyone growing up.
"People who are dishing it out have had it given to them at home," Zabka said, "but that's where the behavior has to stop, because it's cyclical. ... Where's Johnny's dad? Where's Johnny's mom? Kreese [the Cobra Kai sensei] is his dad. Who's Kreese? He's a guy who has his own issues."
Zabka notes that Johnny's character is "set free" toward the end of the film, beginning with his sadist sensei memorably directing him to "sweep the leg" that had been targeted by an illegal strike in an earlier match. Indeed, at the end of the film, Johnny is shown behaving with sportsmanship, handing Daniel the trophy. The beginning of 1986's The Karate Kid Part 2 , which features scenes shot for the first movie but later cut, reveals Kreese's management of the tournament cost him the respect of his young charges, and he's left being the sad uber-asshole he really is.
"Bullying is never cool ... not when you can be the hero in your own story," Zabka told the dojo.
Amen. I was one of thousands of 11-year-olds who signed up for martial arts classes after the movie came out, and the first thing our sensei (a Miyagi-esque florist, actually) told us was that it was a self-defense course. "If you're coming here to fight, you won't be here long," he said. The less disciplined kids (raises hand) washed out pretty quickly after that.
Few actors want to be known entirely for a single role in a 31-year-old movie, but it's admirable that Zabka has embraced the notoriety and uses it for a positive purpose.